Headstand, Shirshasna means the posture where one stands on the top of the head. Headstand not only turns around your vision of the world but also turns around the blood pressure in the body. Headstand is one of the main postures in Hatha Yoga, also referred to as the king of asanas. This is because of its numerous benefits and effects on the body as well as on the mind.
In the past six years I have trained over 4000 yoga teachers from all over the world. My students are comprised of existing yoga teachers, health professionals, advanced as well as beginning practitioners and yoga enthusiasts. To my surprise I have found that most of my students, no matter to which category they belong, do not have clear understanding of headstand. Many of them have never practiced headstand as their teachers did not teach headstand in their classes. In fact many teachers seem to even discourage the practice of headstand or suggest practicing it only with the wall.
So even though there are numerous articles written on headstand, they somehow lack the insights into it. Therefore I decided to provide some clear and important information on it. Whether you already practice the headstand or whether you are planning to learn the headstand, you should know the following important facts about the headstand in order to get most out of it and in order to practice it safely.
Headstand is a Hatha yoga asana (posture) where the practitioner stands / balances on the head with the support of the arms. It is an inverted position where the head is on the ground and the feet are up. Even though Headstand is a challenging pose it is very popular due to its numerous benefits.
When you come into headstand, not only the body inverts, but the blood pressure as well. The pressure changes in the head, neck, shoulders, veins, arteries, lungs as well as legs. This change in blood pressure forces the body to react in order to maintain balance in the different body systems. The muscles and tissues of upper extremities are also stressed and activated.
Now maybe some alarm bells are going off as you hear that the blood pressure to the head increases. Luckily our body has very intricate and strong systems to make sure that the body and the brain stay safe. If you are physically well and your practice with the help and guidance of an experienced teacher headstand is very safe and beneficial. Due the reversal of the blood pressure – when in Headstand the blood pressure towards the head increases and in the feet and legs reduces to almost zero – we can see incredible physiological benefits. In fact according to recent clinical research, inversions improve the brains performance by 14%, and regular inversions do really improve concentration, memory, observation and clarity of thought and can counter-act depression and anxiety. Furthermore inversion therapy may even play a serious role in arresting the brain’s “aging process.”
Much of mental deterioration can be traced to poor blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, both of which reduce oxygen flow. Thus, with regular inversion therapy, we can overcome these risk factors and keep the mind from sliding into dementia.
These medical proofs are exiting and again confirm what has been perceived thousands of years ago by the sages of ancient India.
Headstand is referred as king of asanas due to its wonderful benefits to the body and the mind. Some of benefits on body are:
Due to the complex nature of the headstand not everyone is advised to practice it. One should avoid practicing headstand if any of the following conditions apply:
A correct alignment is very important while practicing headstand, otherwise it can lead to injuries rather than benefit to the practitioner. Please note that the original name of the position explained below is Salamba Shirshasana (supported headstand) but it is commonly called as Shirshasana only.
Starting position: It is recommended to stay in Shashankasana (Child pose) for 10-15 seconds to neutralize the bold pressure in the legs and the head before going into the headstand.
From Shashankasana hands should be placed above the head while elbows should be in line with shoulders. This position of the shoulders provides optimum stability to the shoulders later on, failing to do so may lead to extra play in the shoulders.
Head position: When you place your head on the ground make sure to place the part starting from the hairline going towards the crown also known as “Bregma”. Don’t place the crown on the ground as it is a very soft part which is prone to injury under pressure.
In figure A. the weight of the body is shared in 80/20 ratio by the head and the arms. The back muscles and the core are equally engaged. This is ideal alignment for those who wish to stay long in the pose.
In figure B. the weight of the body is more on the arms, less on the neck (20/80). The core is more engaged than the back muscles. This alignments is suitable for those who wish to develop core awareness and wish less pressure on the neck. This alignment should also be practiced if you are a beginner with this pose. Once you can hold the headstand for 1 minute comfortably, you can shift to alignment A.
In figure C. the weight of the body is on the neck and hands. The pelvis is hanging so the back muscles have to work very hard to keep the posture and the core is not sufficiently engaged. This alignment is not good as it brings compression in the neck and the back and can lead to injury.
In figure D. the weight of the body is falling behind the head so it is not possible to stay in the pose for almost anyone.
It is best to avoid the wall because when you practice headstand with the wall the body will not use the right muscles to support your weight. Rather you will throw the weight on the wall and stay longer in the position than your body can actually handle. This can even lead to injuries to the brain, eyes and neck.
If you don’t have a competent teacher available to learn headstand it is recommended to find a spongy grass surface or a sandy beach. Now practice few child’s somersaults to learn how to roll out if you are falling from headstand in the beginning.
Ideally your stomach should be empty so you should avoid eating 2-3 hours before the practice. Headstand should be practiced after a proper warm up. If you are not practicing on the grass or spongy surface use a 3-5 cm thick blanket under your head to provide cushioning for the skull.
To practice headstand follow the following steps:
There are different views on the maximum duration for holding the headstand. Some teachers suggest maximum 2 minutes, some suggest 3-5 minutes, Hatha Yoga Pradipika even mentions 3 hours. But most of the ancient Hatha yoga texts suggest one common thing that the headstand can be held for any amount of time as long as it is steady and comfortable and no excess effort is used to stay in the posture. So if your arms, back or neck starts to get tired you should come out of the pose. Gradually with practice you will be able to hold the pose longer.
Many people are not able to practice headstand properly. They either get injury or pain from it due to some common mistakes. But if you can be aware of these common mistakes you can avoid unnecessary strain and pain. The most common mistakes in the headstand which lead to instability, discomfort and even injury are following:
Over the period many myths have been formed about headstand, all of which are misleading. Some of them are:
Headstand is a very beneficial posture provided it is practiced properly and held for the right duration without excess mental or physical stress. I highly advise you to learn headstand from a competent teacher who has personal experience and proper understanding of it. For any questions please feel free to ask me, enjoy your Shirshsana.
Original Source of This Article: https://www.arhantayoga.org/blog/how-to-do-headstand-10-things-you-need-to-know/